Norman Mailer was once asked if he thought if an atomic war would kill all mankind. Hell no, he said. We’ll smother ourselves in our own shit first. More and more, Mailer appears to have been right.
Looking on the bright side, though, small sparks of beauty may survive here and there. So take a look at this video sent along by Asher Pavel, and hope for the birds.
The sentiment expressed by Robert de Ropp in his 1968 classic The Master Game was recalled to me by events at the conference I’m attending this weekend. I remember when it sounded rebellious and even a bit naughty.
It has been stated by Thomas Szasz that what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem but games worth playing. He who cannot find a game worth playing is apt to fall prey to accidie, defined by the Fathers of the Church as one of the Deadly Sins, but now regarded as a symptom of sickness. Accidie is a paralysis of the will, a failure of the appetite, a condition of generalized boredom, total disenchantment — “God, oh God, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” Such a state of mind, Szasz tells us, is a prelude to what is loosely called “mental illness,” which, though Szasz defines this illness as a myth, nevertheless fills half the beds in hospitals and makes multitudes of people a burden to themselves and to society.
Seek, above all, for a game worth playing. Such is the advice of the oracle to modern man. Having found the game, play it with intensity — play as if your life and sanity depended on it. (They do depend on it.) Follow the example of the French existentialists and flourish a banner bearing the word “engagement.” Though nothing means anything and all roads are marked “NO EXIT,” yet move as if your movements had some purpose. If life does not seem to offer a game worth playing, then invent one. For it must be clear, even to the most clouded intelligence, that any game is better than no game.
Okay, okay, so the top-seeded Notre Dame women edged out Iowa 74-57 a few hours ago in the second round of the NCAAs. More to the point though:
Sophomore center Bethany Doolittle, left open as Notre Dame trapped Logic, led Iowa with 16 points, including 10 in the first half.
“Bethany stepped up and kept us in there, but we just struggled to score, especially in the second half,” Bluder said. “It was a tough night all the way around.”
Granddaughter Bethany Doolittle drives past defender tonight as Iowa downs Miami 69-53 to advance to the second round of the NCAAs. Stay tuned Tuesday when the Hawkeyes take on Notre Dame.
Ecological notes from the Shanghai Daily:
HANOI, March 12 (Xinhua) — A project to build the largest complex of wood processing factory in Vietnam’s southern Ca Mau province has been approved by local authorities, reported Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper Tuesday…
Built in Khanh An Industrial Zone in U Minh district, the factory has a designed capacity of producing 200,000 cubic meters of finished products per year, mainly with wood planks and medium- density fibreboard (MDF) for exports to the EU and the United States.
And from a retired war correspondent:
I was just in Mondulkiri, a remote hilltribe province of Cambodia bordering Vietnam, and one major part of the forest there is a horrible wasteland stretching as far as the eye can see, chopped down and burned — one’s eyes sting from the residual smoke…
Locals told me a Chinese company plans to lay out rubber plantations there, as at Memot. The land-grabbed inhabitants live in shacks now along the main road, and still protest occasionally but it is too late to do anything.
The Central Highlands of Vietnam have more or less gone. ‘Triple canopy jungle’ — remember the cliché we used to write? — has vanished. It’s all coffee plantations now.
Wildlife has disappeared too. The kouprey, a kind of wild ox that was Cambodia’s national animal, has not been seen since 1988. The elephants in both countries have been decimated.
This modest legislative proposal from James Howard Kunstler deserves the widest possible circulation. So tweet it, poke it, Digg it, friend it, or whatever it is people do to make stuff go viral.
By computerizing all the phone systems we allowed every company, agency, and institution to dump all of their transactional inconveniences onto us, the customers, clients, and citizens. That was done in the name of “efficiency,” another unexamined evil buzzword from the MBA playbook of mendacious bullshit that passes for received wisdom in this deluded nation of craven Babbitts.
Thus, the Acme Corporation gets to save $250-K a year in combined salaries and benefits of what used to be called telephone operators or receptionists. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Acme callers every year get strung out, jerked off, fucked around, driven mad, and just plain lost in the wilderness of robotic phone trees they are induced to enter in the name of “efficiency…”
The sheer cruelty and stupidity implicit here is too great to calculate — has anyone ever tried? Has anyone at MIT’s Sloan School or the University of Chicago, or Wharton ever tried to measure the suffering inflicted on the American public in the name of all this vaunted efficiency?
Is there anyone reading this blog right now who had not ended such a phone call in tears this past year, or dashed their handset against the wall, or, worst of all, actually found themselves engaged in an insult match with the robot at the other end of the line…
Hence, wishing to oppose these evil and tragic tendencies in the current flow of our history, I offer a potent policy initiative to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country: the 2012 Answer the Fucking Telephone Act. My proposal won’t cost a dime. Simply get congress and the senate to pass a law stating that in X, Y, and Z essential services and business, all incoming phone calls must be answered by real human beings, with criminal penalties for failing to do so.
Add to that another layer of less essential businesses, institutions, agencies, and organizations who would not be subject to criminal penalties but would have to pay a substantial tax for every phone line not manned by a live operator — the tax designed to exceed the average salary and benefit package that could otherwise be provided to employ such a worker.
Now that I’ve discovered this site, we’ll be hearing a lot more from VietNamNet Bridge:
Ms. Bui Thi Vinh and Mr. Ha Van Toi, 91, in the southern province of Ben Tre, have officially become wife and husband on June 4.
After several months of strongly protesting the two elder people to live together, children of Ms. Vinh and Mr. Toi were glad to support them. A small party that they organized on June 4 was seen as the official wedding for the old couple.
Ms. Vinh said that being convened by the local officials, her children and Mr. Toi’s children understood the old couple’s wish. “Several days ago, Mr. Toi’s son took him to my home to visit me and then took us to the church for marriage ceremony,” she said.
Since Mr. Toi lived with Ms. Vinh in her house, the old couple went to church every morning, then they dropped by the market to buy food. They together cleaned their garden and house.
Two months ago, local people were surprised knowing that a couple of 91 years old asked the priest to perform marriage ceremony for them. Their families tried to stop the old couple from living together.
Thanks to the patience of local officials and being influenced by the public opinion that supports the old couple, the two families have understood of the two people’s hearts.
One of the half-dozen or so blogs I read every day is Robert Paul Wolff’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Last month he confessed to a weakness for schlock novels, and so I sent him one of mine called Body Scissors. He responded handsomely on his blog. Here’s an excerpt, which I pass along on the theory that he who tooteth not his own horn, that horn shall not get tooted:
The book arrived in the mail yesterday, at about 1:30 p.m. I opened the first page to see what it was like. At 8:23 p.m., with time out to prepare and eat dinner, I turned the last page, put out my light, and went to sleep. I think it is accurate to say that I could not put it down…
It is a great tale, but what really captivated me [aside from the Harvard Square scenes, rendered with delicious and unillusioned irony], is the progressive sensibility that infuses the narrative. It does not actually play a role in the plot as such, but it is present, nonetheless, and it made me aware how much of the time, in the sorts of things I had been reading, I simply had to bracket my political sensibilities in order to get through the book. Just the opposite is true in Body Scissors.
From the New York Times’ s “10 Tips for Wearing a Tuxedo”—
A simple steel (or white metal or, if you are bucks-up, platinum) watch with a black leather strap is preferred by those who hold with the tradition that gents don’t wear gold after 5 p.m.
I’m outta here, gents. Gotta buy a gold watch not to wear after five.
At the half in last night’s game in Ann Arbor, the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes trailed Michigan, 33-19. During the second half the Lady Hawkeyes clawed their way back slowly, but Michigan held the lead until it stood at 57-55 with 46 seconds left to play. At that point Iowa’s Kamille Wahlin hit for three with the results seen below. (Did I mention that our granddaughter Bethany plays for the Hawkeyes? Well, she does.)
Rebound by Bethany Doolittle as Iowa extends its winning streak to five by sinking Michigan State 74-57 yesterday. Watch this space for further news once we get back from the Iowa-Michigan game in Ann Arbor Thursday. I’ll be the idiot in the second row, wearing a Hawkeye hoodie and offering helpful suggestions to the young ladies. With any luck, they should win anyway.
Hey, sports fans, the Iowa Hawkeyes play Penn State's Lady Lions Sunday at 3 p.m., eastern standard time. ESPN2 is broadcasting it nationally, so the world will have a chance to watch our favorite freshman forward in action. Bethany Doolittle wears number 51 for Iowa (scroll down for a picture of her scoring against Wisconsin).
Bethany goes up for another as Iowa downs Wisconsin 69-57:
Bethany Doolittle sinks another last night as Iowa Hawkeyes roll over Drake, 71-46.
Previously we showed that swearing produces a pain lessening (hypoalgesic) effect for many people… Swearing increased pain tolerance and heart rate compared with not swearing… This article presents further evidence that, for many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, overuse of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.
When I was a young reporter at the long-defunct Washington Daily News, I was contacted by a group of county employees from the Maryland suburb — whistleblowers, as we didn’t yet call them. They wanted us to expose their supervisor’s use of county equipment and workers to improve his home. I told them that they would lose their jobs if the story ran. They said they didn’t care. I wrote the story. They lost their jobs.
That is what happens to government whistleblowers almost a hundred percent of the time. (I suspect you could drop the “almost” when it comes to the private sector.) In the real world any bureaucrat with an I.Q. in the double digits is smart enough to figure out how to violate the Whistleblower Protection Act without getting punished.
So I admire Carolyn Lerner and wish her well in her lonely fight against human nature. Maybe this time…
There’s been something special lately about the Office of Special Counsel.
It’s doing its job.
OSC is an independent federal agency with a long and well-deserved reputation for failing to protect federal whistleblowers, although part of its mission is “to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices…”
Carolyn Lerner gets the credit. She was sworn in as special counsel in June.
Her “tenure is very young, but she hit the ground running and appears to be fearless,” said Thomas Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group…
Kerry Trueman at AlterNet explores the question of why those irritating Danes go around smiling all the time:
KT: Denmark is famous for having so much less income inequality; do kitchen workers in Danish restuarants make a decent salary?
TH: Yes, a dishwasher in Denmark gets $25 an hour.
KT: Do they get sick days and benefits, too?
TH: Yes, and a pension, and health care, and maternity leave. To me, the more equal your society is, the better it is for everybody. It’s not right for a country as rich as yours to have so many poor people. This thing with Americans and taxes, I don’t understand it.
I make quite a lot of money, I pay 67% tax on much of it, and I don’t mind. I like the idea that the girl who’s sitting next to my daughter, whose mother is a cleaning lady, has exactly the same opportunity to get an education that my daughter has. I don’t think that’s socialism. To me, that’s human decency. That girl didn’t choose her parents, why shouldn’t she have the same opportunities?
This transcription was made by a member of my family as a much younger family member was being driven home from swimming earlier today. It is incomplete because the adult family member became insane before the trip ended.
Mom, what are geodes? What are geodes? What are geodes? Mom, what is a geode? Why? What is a geode, just please Mommy! Is this a geode? Is this a geode? Really? Oh. I found a geode on my playground! Yes, I did! I did! She did! Ha ha! Hoor, hoor! Geode, why are you a geode? What is a geode? Hey, soup copying me! Stop copying me! Why aren’t you copying me? What is a rock? I don’t know! What is a geode? I don’t know! I can’t see or feel or anything! Hee hee! Hello, hello, hello! Hee hee panini. I like stop signs and my guts, and I like my penis too. I like my penis. What is fertilizer? What are those white things? No, just tell me, what are they? What’s crabgrass? What’s fertilizer? Why are you talking? Why are you talking? By the way, you are a poopy. You are a poopy, by the way. Ha ha. You did too. Mom, what is crabgrass? No, just tell me! Oh. Hee hee.
…and what does “comprise” mean? Robert Paul Wolff writes in The Philosopher’s Stone:
My eye was caught by the photo of the [supposedly inferior] Kindle on which was displayed the first page of Pride and Prejudice. I read what is certainly one of the most famous first lines in the entire genre of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Reading that sentence gives me the sort of familiar and reliable pleasure that I derive from hearing yet again Haydn’s “Kaiser” quartet or seeing Notre Dame at the bottom of my street in Paris. As I am sure any student of literature will agree, Austen’s words are deceptively simple, and it would take several careful paragraphs to unpack their complexities of ironic voice and narrative point of view.
Then I thought to myself: “In a career spanning fifty-three years, at Harvard, Chicago, Columbia, Barnard, CCNY, Rutgers, CUNY, UMass, Williams, Yale, Boston University, Northeastern University, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill, I have taught untold thousands of students, and yet there are probably no more than a handful — five score, perhaps — who could, if called upon, give unprompted an accurate, intelligent interpretation of that sentence.”
Here’s Jonathan Chait on “Liberalism’s Bumper Sticker Problem:”
The bumper sticker problem is endemic for American liberalism. On foreign policy, it’s actually a murky split, with ideologies cutting across both party coalitions. But on economics, there’s a persistent phenomenon of conservatives having clear bumper-sticker answers and liberals lacking them. That’s because, as I’ve argued before, conservatism is philosophically anti-government in a way that liberalism is not philosophically pro-government. “Market good, government bad” fits on a bumper sticker. So does “Government good, market bad.” The problem is that the former pretty well describes the Republican philosophy, while the latter describes the philosophy only of a tiny socialist fringe operating mainly outside the two-party system.
Here’s my solution to the problem: BE KIND TO STRANGERS. What’s yours?
Send this by Julio Friedmann to your representative in Congress, particularly if he/she/it is a member of the Green Obstructionist Party:
ENN (a subsidiary of the XinAo Group), Shenhua, CNOOC and others are all developing clean tech themselves from scratch, both for domestic use and export. This covers solar thin-films, biofuels, coal-to-liquids, shale gas and smart grids, all with U.S. partners. Lishen battery company, one of the world’s largest, is embarking on a $7 billion development drive just for battery technology and demonstration.
The good news — this will ultimately lead to lower emissions faster worldwide, and cheaper power with it. The bad news — for some in the U.S. — is additional competition. While some U.S. companies will benefit, others will encounter aggressive, new competition with credible technology. Some will grow faster; others will lose market share.
U.S. businesses are quick to benefit from this, and will help us all reach a stable climate faster. U.S. jobs will be created in the process, as is already happening with many who are partnering in China’s clean-tech sector right now. They’re also critical to laying the foundation of trust between the two countries, absolutely essential for U.S.-China government agreements in trade, climate and other key areas.
Perhaps the main story is the constancy of the innovation drive. China has built the largest computer in the world (Tianhe-1). It started with U.S. chips, but the next one will be with indigenous chips. While the U.S. has a lead in using these computers well to accelerate innovation, we could lose that edge quickly — in just two to three years. This same innovation permeates everything: aircraft, biotech, IT.
But clean-tech is the main event, at over $40 billion/year government investment. That investment goes to universities, private companies, state-owned enterprises and new research institutes. It funds centers of excellence, large-scale demonstrations, modeling and simulation and bench-top research. It’s like the Vannevar Bush innovation model (let a thousand flowers bloom) — on steroids.
Back from watching our granddaughter Bethany play in the state girls basketball tournament. The good news out of Minnesota is that the Hill Murray Pioneers finished their season with a 30-1 record. The bad news is that the “1” was in the final for the state championship, which they lost to another high school. I seem to be blocking its name for some reason. I do recall, however, that Bethany was named to the Minnesota All Stars first team and is a finalist for Miss Minnesota Basketball 2011 and will be playing for Iowa next year.
Light blogging next week. We leave tomorrow for Minnesota to watch Granddaughter Bethany lead her team to the state championship. At least that’s our plan going in. Probably coming out, too, since they’re ranked number one in their division.
David Rhode is a paramedic in Middleton, Wis. He works 56 hours a week, mostly in 24-hour shifts, frequently carrying wheezy patients up and down flights of stairs. He said he earns about $43,000 a year.
HuffPost asked Rhode, 36, how it feels to be overpaid. His eyebrows went up.
"I drove my Ford Focus here," he said. "I live in a 950-square-foot condominium!"
Luckily, this question is easily answered: Anyone who makes under $250,000 a year is overpaid. Anyone who make over $250,000 is underpaid.
Please make a note of it. It is, after all, one of the base assumptions of our current national discourse.
From the always useful Robert Reich:
Last year, America’s top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains — at 15 percent — due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.
If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society — thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let’s make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?
Once again I’m unable to resist bringing you up to date on our granddaughter, Bethany. She’s shown below in the process of scoring 31 points Tuesday night, one of them being the 1,000th of her high school career. Next year she plays for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Stay tuned.
This is the second movement from Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez, which was long thought to be about the bombing of Guernica. Recently, Rodrigo’s wife revealed that the second movement was written by Rodrigo to express his feelings about his devastation at the miscarriage of their first pregnancy.
With flags flying today at half mast, I think it appropriate to play this song for the benefit of all who have lost loved ones and still feel the pain of that loss. I know I have put up numerous versions of this movement, although not this version. The second movement of the Concierto speaks to me in a way that I do not and cannot understand but I hope you will enjoy the music once again, played slightly differently than you have heard it on Bad Attitudes before. The guitarist is John Williams and the piece in played at the Royal Alcazar of Seville, the oldest royal palace in Europe that continues discharging its duties as such, that is, as official residence of the King of Spain in Seville. Although its appearance is partially Arabic, it was built by the Christian King Pedro I of Castille in the fourteenth century in 1364.
If you like the piece, I urge you to seek out the first and third movements which have a different tone and flavor altogether. One of them may even brighten your day. But this is not a bright and radiant week for America so I play the song to commemorate those who have gone before us and those who we hope that things will turn out the best for. Including Gabrielle Giffords and Joe Bageant.
But even as we enjoy the antics, we must hasten to the aid of our country. The reason has nothing to do with the minority leader’s skin tone, or the three aforementioned Republican comediennes or, for that matter, Mitch McConnell’s chin or John McCain’s tiny anger issues, or C Street, or Rush or Cheney or Glenn Beck.
We must take on today’s radioactive politics for the sake of my 1-year-old grandson.
I was babysitting him on the night when Miss O’Donnell won the Republican nomination for senator in Delaware. The television was filled with footage of the incomparable O’Donnell and news of how she opposes masturbation and believes that scientists have successfully implanted human brains in lab rats. I could not have taken my eyes off the television for anyone else except my grandson, with his huge luminous black eyes and hair, his rosy brown skin, his toothy smile. But this toddler is so lovely, innocent and funny that he broke the spell…
Couldn’t have said it better myself, and therefore won’t. Here’s The Economist.
Maureen Dowd doinked Mr Obama Saturday with her silly-straw-like wit, faulting his “inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.” Yeah, you know who would’ve killed as the president facing a deep-sea oil blowout? Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or maybe Meryl Streep. Did you see them in “Doubt?”
Ms Dowd’s involvement is fitting, as this may be the sorriest spectacle of content-free public hyperventilation since Al Gore’s earth tones. The difference is that in this case the issue is deadly serious; it’s the public discourse that is puerile. There is plenty of room for substantive critique of the flaws in governance and policy uncovered by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. You could talk about regulatory failure. You could talk about corporate impunity. You could talk about blithely ignoring the tail-end risk of going ahead with deepwater drilling without any capacity to cope with catastrophic blowouts. Precisely none of these subjects are evident in the arguments our pundit class is having. Instead we have empty-headed squawking over what the catastrophe is doing to Barack Obama's image…
This astonishingly cute little kid is my second youngest grandson, Wyatt (with his once-cute father, Ted). If you live in Connecticut, do as the kid says. Vote for Jonathan Harris for Secretary of State.
I don’t blame you for wondering what happened yesterday when Hill-Murray School met Annandale. Well, according to the St. Paul papers, “Hill-Murray pulled away from Annandale in the second half this afternoon to claim a 66-44 victory in the Class AAA state girls quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Center Bethany Doolittle led Hill-Murray with 18 points. The 6-foot-4 junior scored six points during a 17-4 run by the Pioneers early in the second half.”
Bethany is the one hanging onto the ball, below. Today’s game, half an hour from now, will be against currently undefeated DeLaSalle. I’ll keep you posted. Why? Because this is my blog and she’s my granddaughter.
Addendum: DeLaSalle went into the game having beaten every other opponent this season by an average of 31 points. They went out on the short end of a 61-48 tally, as we scribes say. The Hill-Murray Pioneers thus advance to the state finals on Saturday. I'll keep on keeping you posted, sports fans.
My favorite college basketball coach used to be Geno Auriemma, of the University of Connecticut women. But that was yesterday, before I discovered Herb Magee. Magee is about to break Bobby Knight’s career record of 902 victories, which is good news for our side. This is because Knight is a complete asshole, whereas Magee is a total non-asshole:
PHILADELPHIA — Along his road to the top of college basketball’s career list for victories while coaching at Philadelphia University, Herb Magee has engaged bus drivers in games of Trivial Pursuit on long trips, bathed in beer after wins and been led onto the court in handcuffs by a police officer as a joke. He has had his mustache mimicked by fans, and he met his second wife, Geri, when she tended bar at the Yankee Doodle Inn…
“He can also spell words backward, including supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” his wife, now manager of the Great American Pub, said. “I married a ‘Rain Man’ type.”
I can’t come close to saying anything better than what Bill Doolittle said about his involvement with and participation in the Civil Rights Movement as well as his coverage of the event, but I hope I can add a little something to remember Dr. Martin Luther King today by posting this YouTube Video of another great American announcing the untimely death of Dr. King, who, like Dr. King, was a short time later likewise shot down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet.
Thank you, Bill Doolittle, for what you said and I hope this short post also helps us to continue to remember the life of Dr. King and the great changes that he and others around him helped make become a reality. I was one who witnessed as a child the horrid conditions in the South for blacks and I saw the changes that he helped to make happen as I grew. And the sad chapter in America now referred to as the Jim Crow Era fortunately passed and was put away in the history books. Unfortunately the ending of that era is sadly forgotten or its elimination viewed with anger by too many Americans to this day.
Let us not forget his tragic and unfortunate death, the circumstances of which still trouble Americans to this day. But the Dream truly lives on in so many of us today.
The World Peace Prayer is a paraphrase of a verse from the Upanishads, the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism, and is also prayed daily by the Roman Catholic Benedictine Sisters. It is also said near the end of the service at the UCC church my wife and I attend.
A reader who calls himself Colonelgirdle mentioned in a recent comment that he had lost his small business and his livelihood when refused credit by a bank which used its bailout money to buy another bank. I asked him if he could expand on his brief comment, and he has kindly done so:
For three years I owned and operated a mini-market/gas station in a Cincinnati, Ohio suburb. I bought an already existing store using all the assets I had, including my 401K funds, after being down-sized from my middle-management career of 22 years (in one of the many industries which the U.S. can no longer keep onshore).
Things went along fairly well and the business grew as I acquired a large clientele of regular customers from the local construction companies, other business owners, and the Ford plant. My girlfriend and I worked 90+ hour workweeks and, along with help from a few part-time employees, we operated 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, I was a real practitioner of the kind of free-enterprise capitalism that our windbag politicians and business leaders praise to the heavens while making sure it doesn’t apply to them.
In the spring of 2008, I went to the county “economic development board” asking for advice about expanding my business. And because his office is in the same shopping center as my store, I walked over to Representative John Boehner’s (remember him? the Republican House Majority, now Minority, Leader?) office to ask for help. I asked the bureaucrats whether grants or tax breaks were available to help me hire employees, buy equipment, etc. No, no such thing available. Their only advice was to go to the Small Business Administration.
So I called the SBA. I won’t go into details other than that they sent out someone to take a look at my store and see if he had any words of wisdom. He was the former head of Ford’s truck and ambulance division and knew nothing I could discern about small businesses in general nor especially the retail store business.
So back I went to the county development board. After a few lengthy consultations, I was steered to a Vice President of Lending at a local branch of one of our nation’s larger banks (I won’t tell you which one, but their initials are PNC). In cooperation with that very nice VP, my girlfriend and I hashed-out a business plan and jumped through a multitude of hoops necessary to secure a relatively paltry SBA loan of $75,000.
Meanwhile, I realize now that throughout the spring & summer business had started to go sour. We were close enough to our customers that many of them confided their troubles: they were losing their jobs, they were losing their homes, their own small businesses were taking on water like Katrina. We finished up our paperwork with the bank and awaited an answer.The V.P. anticipated no problem as I had A-1 credit, very little debt, and a good plan for growing the business.
Then the financial tsunami hit…
Suddenly, Americans were informed the banks were bust and Wall Street toppled! Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his bankster buddies told us it was our money or our lives: we could either pony up nearly a trillion dollars or our economy would eat lead.
My business flow slowed to a trickle; people who are terrified don’t go out shopping. In the midst of all this it was announced that the bank I had asked for money was using its government bailout to buy the bank where I had my business accounts (National City). I didn’t think badly about that arrangement, until during that same time my business loan was turned down. The nice V.P. confided that “we just aren’t loaning to anyone right now. Come back in the spring and you can probably get it then.”
We hung on for five months after that. The store died a slow death. People without jobs to go to don’t buy near as much gasoline and candy. I let the employees go after the New Year holiday. In late February, I contacted the bank V.P. but was turned-down again. I heard on the news that the credit markets were still frozen.
A few weeks later, I put up the sign that said “Out of Business.” I didn’t get much out of the used equipment because so many businesses have gone belly-up that there’s a glut on the market (part of that real free-enterprise again).
I’m not embarrassed about my story because now most everyone is either financially ruined or close to it. And our so-called “leaders” don’t really seem to know or care about fixing it because the Dow Jones Average is going up again. I’m unemployed, broke, and waiting, praying/working for the revolution that seems inevitable.
(Editor’s note: Earlier today the colonel commented on Chuck Dupree’s posting, Thirty Million More Criminals. Since it follows naturally on the preceding account, I reprint it below.)
As one of America’s many financially-ruined citizens I have first-hand frustrating experience with applying to the government for assistance. To cite two examples: 1) so that my working, divorced daughter could go to college, she needed financial help with my granddaughter’s daycare. That took seven weeks of almost daily calling the social workers and, finally, in desperation a call to our state governor’s office hotline to get results. 2) I applied for heating energy assistance for this winter, which involves getting up about 3 am in order to stand in line in the freezing cold outside the application office to get one of 25 entrance tickets at about 8 am.
I was 17th in line, because some people camp out there all night. There were about 50 people in line, which means a lot of people turned away each day. My point is that there will be a lot of poor people spending a lot of their time going begging “hat in hand” to the bureaucrats in order to buy insurance.
I was once solidly middle-class and paid taxes for 37 years before being destroyed in the Great Recession. I was surprised at how confusing, uncaring, and inadequate our social safety net is. Pray that you don’t have to find out also.
Back in first half of the last century, a small music book, through its authors, tried to find a publisher for a book of songs, but had quite a bit of trouble getting a publisher to accept the book. Perhaps it was the subject, perhaps people didn’t want to think about the past, but nevertheless, finally, in 1967 the book was published and is now quite rare, sales in the heady days of the 1960s were not exceptional, even though Bob Dylan had launched his career originally and later partly, based on the career of Woody Guthrie.
Now somewhat rare, the book contains the words and music to a great deal of music that Woody Guthrie wrote during the first great depression. Let us hope that our current President and the ones that follow avert a second unless the time for that is past, although that question is quite debatable, as you will read in the previous post that Chuck just put up.
Since I’m not up to writing much at all about politics these days, the subject being quite depressing, and because Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ghost should be haunting every politician today, I’ve decided today to add some music to the blog during this season by posting songs either from or related to this book.
That we need to hear these songs to make us aware that the current financial situation for individuals in America is perhaps approaching the desperate straits in the 1930s that so many Americans found themselves in seems apparent to me. If the situation doesn’t seem to be bordering on analogous to you, perhaps you might take a look at this playable national unemployment time graph (click on the arrow), current as I write these words.
Two songs, one in the book and one not, but perhaps based upon Guthrie’s famous song, I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore are available for watching and viewing below. I hope the blog owner will forgive me for the length of the post due to this diatribe and the posting of two songs is not my norm (or is it?) but these are not normal times and abnormal times occasionally call for unusual action (hint to President Obama).
To fully appreciate the intent of this post, please play the unemployment chart, link above, which contains the unemployment time line and shows the desperate straits that many of your neighbors are likely in, so many Americans living week to week, many out of necessity, and watch and listen to the songs below. These are indeed the times that try men’s souls. Which is perhaps is what people like George Bush and Alan Greenspan wanted to accomplish, or so it seems to me, may their souls rot in hell from this date forward.
I’m doing far more than I ever have (not that I’ve ever done enough) for the homeless and the hungry and the lonely this year. Travel is likely to be light this year so there will be more lonely old folks this year so don’t forget the older folks, who may be having a harder time due to age and loneliness and lack of money and perhaps homelessness this year. And don’t forget our youngest victims of this jobless time, those who without your help may be Santa Clausless this year.
I hope you will too. But please, help where your heart insists this year. And feel free to recommend worthy charities to our readers in the comments section below, although I may take the editorial liberty of editing out comments (which we rarely do on this blog) soliciting help for unworthy charities which pay enormous salaries to their staff or which pay a pittance to those they seek to help, which I also hope the owner and editor will forgive.
Blogging has been slow to none these last few days, and here’s why. This is our granddaughter Bethany at the Nike Showcase Tournament in Elgin, Illinois. Her team, the Minnesota Fury, made it to the semi-finals in the 15 and under division.
From today’s New York Times:
Police officers, responding to an attempted robbery at a Brooklyn day care center on Friday afternoon, shot a man who had stormed into the center and pointed a gun at arriving officers as a group of frightened children stood nearby, the authorities said…
Later, one parent, Somalia Williams, smiled as she left the precinct station with her daughter, Yosha, 2, who was wearing a pink onesie over a diaper. Ms. Williams said the children were given snacks while they waited. “She’s O.K., thank God,” she said.
“My friends were crying,” Yosha said, adding “I had pizza.”
Friends of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, are petitioning Congress to honor his life’s work. They’re shooting for 10,000 signatures, and as of this moment (they’ve just started) there’s only 659. So add yours. From the petition:
Following what appeared to be a routine cold and congestion, the man who spent his life envisioning a world without shacks entered just such a place with his Lord suddenly on February 3, 2009, to the unspeakable grief of his family, friends, and supporters around the world. He was buried at Koinonia Farm within 36 hours of his death as hundreds of supporters around the world flew or drove in overnight to celebrate his life.
A simple wooden grave marker made of pecan wood read, “Like he told Clarence, ‘You made it, Millard! You made it.’ Faithful to the end.”
Among other songs, those gathered sang “Happy Birthday” to Millard and steadfastly determined to carry on his life’s work until his vision of a world with no more shacks reaches completion.
That was a man, and a great spirit.
From the Washington Post, this portrait of the straight shooter as a young man:
McCain was closer to Richey than to any other Episcopal [High School] student, and during a summer night after McCain’s sophomore year, the two found themselves cruising in a car, with Richey behind the wheel. As Richey remembers, he and McCain spotted a couple of older girls near Arlington and called out to them, asking if they wanted company. The girls laughed. Insulted, McCain leaned across the driver’s-side window and shouted an expletive at them. “Our feelings were hurt. They unveiled our masks and revealed us for the boys we were,” Richey says.
Minutes later, a car stopped them on the road. Police were called, and McCain and Richey were ticketed for what Richey remembers as public nuisance and profanity. Soon they were standing in an Arlington court, with Richey hoping that McCain would tell the truth: that he alone, not Richey, had shouted the profanity at the girls. As Richey recalls, McCain said nothing — explaining to Richey later that he didn’t know what good it would have done to speak up.
It’s encouraging how readers can extract value from writing that’s truly inept. I’ve recently returned to school as a student after three decades, and my first reading assignment was the initial two chapters of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. You kinda know it’s gonna be ugly when the first sentence is this:
While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.
Apparently I lack the perspicacity necessary to distill any meaning from that sentence, axiological or otherwise.
Freire mixed his Christianity with his Marxism, and was thus a liberation theologist. Along with a great heart went a definitional approach to writing that obscures as often as it clarifies. An impressive guy, who lived his ideals even when they brought him jail time and exile. But an editor wouldn’t have helped him much; he needed a ghostwriter.
Still, he had some valuable ideas, and could sometimes communicate them.
In the following excerpt, one of the less obscure portions of the reading, ellipses, bracketed words, and punctuation are (in some cases unfortunately) exactly as in the original, except that I’ve removed the superscripts for the footnotes. The first two quotes are taken from Erich Fromm’s The Heart of Man, the last from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.
When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use their faculties, people suffer. “This suffering due to impotence is rooted in the very fact that the human equilibrium has been disturbed.” But the inability to act which causes people’s anguish also causes them to reject their impotence, by attempting…to restore [their] capacity to act. But can [they], and how? One way is to submit to and identify with a person or group having power. By this symbolic participation in another person’s life, [men have] the illusion of acting, when in reality [they] only submit to and become a part of those who act.
Populist manifestations perhaps best exemplify this type of behavior by the oppressed, who, by identifying with charismatic leaders, come to feel that they themselves are active and effective. The rebellion they express as they emerge in the historical process is motivated by that desire to act effectively. The dominant elites consider the remedy to be more domination and repression, carried out in the name of freedom, order, and social peace (that is, the peace of the elites). Thus they can condemn — logically, from their point of view — “the violence of a strike by workers and [can] call upon the state in the same breath to use violence in putting down the strike.”
Pretty regularly I put up photos taken at a local farm called, unsurprisingly, Local Farm. Here’s one, below. And today’s New York Times has another (not mine), as well as a long story on Debra Tyler’s dairy and others in Connecticut that sell raw milk.
Every fan who understands the ridiculous but fulfilling concept of loyalty to a sports team knows the drill.
You like to think of the whole universe of all those semi-wackos who dedicate a corner of their hearts to what is after all a business enterprise as composing a family, of which you are part not because you choose to be but because your feelings leave you no choice. You share a helpless devotion to the team with people almost entirely unlike you. They know it, too, which leaves everyone with opportunities for conversational ice-breaking. “What the hell’s up with the bullpen over the last month?” It produces a camaraderie kind of like that of addiction but without the shakes.
The addiction, I mean devotion, is generally acquired early in life. If you grew up in or near a city with a major league team, then that team was part of your birthright. If you grew up near several, you might have had to make choices early in life, choices that are usually final. How many Mets fans switch to the Yankees later in life, or vice versa? How many Forty-Niners fans emigrate to the Raider Nation?
Of course, you might be in some sense loyal to all your local teams, one per sport. You might, as I do, have feelings for teams in different cities for different sports based on where you lived when you were most infatuated with that sport. I grew up with the Cincinnati Reds, the baseball franchise that eventually produced the magnificent Big Red Machine; but in football I root for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in basketball it’s the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs. Each was a hometown team at some point in my life.
There are philosophical issues at work too, of course. I could, for example, have honorably switched football loyalties to the Forty-Niners at any point in the last couple of decades. And I do root for them, as opposed to, say, the hated Patriots, or even worse, the Cowboys, against whom I would cheer for hovering octupi from Alpha Centauri. I’m pretty sure I’d pick the Cowboys over al Qaeda; but then that’d probably be a gimme. I’m figuring Osama’s knees are not what they used to be, and his scrambles are unlikely to evade the dedicated pursuit of the Cowboys’ defensive line. Or maybe I’m wrong.
But between the Buccaneers of the pewter pants and the post-Eddie D Niners, I have no hesitation. DeBartolo pleaded guilty and testified in the corruption case of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards; apparently bribes were solicited and supplied in relation to a casino license that was never forthcoming, so a lot of people were pissed. But he ran a top-flight football organization. DeBartolo’s Wikipedia entry currently says:
During his twenty-two years controlling the team, they won five Super Bowls and had the winningest decade in football history. He was beloved as an owner, many of his former players have donned him to be the most generous owner in NFL history.
I’m not sure that’s a legitimate use of “donned”, but the point is accurate. Everyone knew that Eddie D’s team was the best organization in the NFL to play for. You’d be treated better, some players compared it to a family; you’d play with some of the game’s top stars; you’d have an excellent chance at a ring. In return you had to be part of the team, on board and dedicated, and do the job the team asked of you.
That was a metaphor a philosophical fan could get behind (and San Francisco’s fans, as famous for their love of white wine and cheese as of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Steve Young, are nothing if not philosophical). It was a Left Coast version of the Celtics team approch, rather than the kind of overpowering hierarchical situation imposed by upper management that Jonathan E refused to conform to. There were contrary incidents, but in general the organization avoided the self-destructive track immortalized in Any Given Sunday.
Eddie D’s Niners were instead a sleek modern corporation that had reduced the number of layers between players and ownership to the point that it was actually a group effort. Or at least it convincingly appeared to be so, and as usual it was probably easier to just have it be true than to do it with mirrors.
Eventually, however, legal proceedings revealed some weaknesses in Eddie’s defenses, and he was ousted from the organization which had congealed around his genius. It doesn’t take much of a genius, in a certain sense, to create a great football team, if you can afford it. You hire a great coach and a great general manager. You draft well, you develop your talent carefully, you build for the long term. You expect results over periods beyond the horizon of most American corporations, perhaps as far as (gasp!) five years ahead. Anyone could do it, in theory, but few of those with the money and the organizational talent can see past the dazzling glow of their own egos.
In the end, what is a sports team? I was listening to Reds games on a radio earphone when I was six. Since then the team has changed owners several times. Not only are all the players who populate my early baseball memories long retired, their sons are retired, or near the end of long careers. What remains of the team for me to hold onto over that period? Of what do I speak when I say “Cincinnati Reds”?
Clearly nothing of substance. Not people. The mascot and the mascot’s name have changed. The color scheme, given the team’s moniker, has remained relatively constant. At best the team is an idea, or perhaps a chimera. An atom of consensus reality, an abstraction onto which we fans project the energy of unfulfilled fantasies.
How does such a useless obsession begin? What hooked me to begin with? Well, based on the available data I believe it was the no-hitter Jim Maloney pitched on August 19, 1965, against the Chicago Cubs. In the era of Koufax and Gibson and Marichal it was hard to get recognized pitching for an Ohio team, a complaint with which Aaron Harang can identify today. But in the early 1960’s Maloney’s fastball was clocked at 99 mph; in 1965 he won twenty games, threw the no-hitter, and pitched nine innings of no-hit ball in another game that was called a no-hitter at the time, but the rule was later changed; the game was lost in the eleventh, 1-0.
I heard parts of the August 19th game on the radio as I wandered in and out of my grandfather’s hobby shop. I started to notice that the Reds announcers, usually quite reliable about providing the relevant statistics, were unaccountably skipping over the number of hits each inning. They’d report no runs and no errors, but they said nothing about hits. I think I started to get the picture somewhere around the sixth inning: it’s a superstition, they’re avoiding the number of hits, my favorite Red is pitching a no-hitter!
Sure enough, he did. Entranced by the moment, I wrote a note to my favorite player congratulating him on his achievement. A week or so later, I received by return mail a postcard, slightly larger than average, with Maloney’s face on one side and a signature scrawled across it, with a sentence on the other side thanking me for my letter. Was it really Maloney’s signature? These days it wouldn’t be, but back then it probably was. But it didn’t matter; I had a personal relationship with baseball, and the Reds in particular, from then on.
And this is what leads to the archetypal experience for the dedicated sports fan: following a team from the lower reaches of the standings through years of slowly building the farm team, generating both offense and defense, eventually emerging into the spotlight and standing among the truly great. This for the fan is vindication of the long struggle, the years of rooting for a team without a prayer, the hopeful springs and the depressing falls, the young prospects either failed or traded, the old warhorses moved on to spend their last few years with some other team that hasn’t yet given up on the playoffs.
Then, after years of wandering in the wilderness, things start to look up. Perhaps new ownership comes along, and for the first time in years you start to indulge a hope. One of the young prospects turns out to be a Johnny Bench or a Derek Jeter. Maybe you make a smart trade, and suddenly you’ve got more pitching than your team has seen in a century. You begin to see a bit of light in a tunnel that previously appeared endless.
But an injury here and a rough patch there, a pitcher’s strained muscle and a shortstop’s shattered kneecap, and you start to realize that this is not the year. You know that for sure when the team trades an outfielder in the off-season who proceeds to lead the other league in several categories for much of the year. Then you trade a perennial All-Star and likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, and a week and a half later trade the leading home-run hitter in the majors, whose expensive contract expires at the end of this year. For the two of them, plus some cash, you get a middle reliever, a triple-A third baseman, a double-A pitcher, and two players to be named later.
But there’s no blow lower than the pig-out promotion. When it reaches the point that the club can sell bleacher seats for $30, complete with all-you-can-eat hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, and Pepsi products, you know it’s time to start dreaming of spring. Once again.
If you loved the suspense and thrill-a-minute action of “My Dinner With Andre”, or you’re a Fritjof Capra fan, then you probably already know about the wonderful movie “Mindwalk”. If not, perhaps you’ve heard of the book The Tao of Physics. Capra described his motivation for writing the book this way:
Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both.
Ideas this all-encompassing are never bereft of controversy. Capra has been dissed by some physicists, but encouraged by others. He said:
I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.
Commenters at YouTube were unable to find “Mindwalk” from Netflix, so they were happy to find the full movie there. It stars Liv Ullman as the physicist, John Heard as the poet, and Sam Waterston as the politician, with music contributed by Philip Glass.
A Smirking Chimp commenter by the handle of genboomxer hits us where it hurts.
There is a hypocritical duality in our American culture. We want a saint for president; we want someone with confidence and experience. We want the “Daddy” ideal. On the other hand we want someone who’s not afraid to play dirty to give us what we want. We are the children who idolize “Daddy” as long as we don’t know he’s cheating.
Politically we are one of the most immature countries. We run our domestic and foreign policies like an amoral adolescent with a car, a shotgun and a case of beer on a Saturday night who goes on a rampage, who then shows up for church on Sunday to repent our sins to show everyone that deep-down we’re really good.
A more concise statement of the American character is hard to find. When we’re disappointed in our leadership we blame it on them, as if we had no part in making it happen.
So I guess you wouldn’t be surprised to find the same person pointing to an old Bill Moyers show called “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis”. It’s just as true now, and just as relevant, as when it was made. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Moyers remains unsurpassed. You kinda get the feeling he’s still trying to make up for the whole LBJ thing, though it’s hard to imagine that he had the power to fix it. Probably LBJ was just smart enough to make him the front man, because Moyers is so clearly a moral person in the best sense of the term.
Since I unflaggingly rag on the Democrats, it’s incumbent on me to praise when I see them do something praiseworthy. And they’ve managed to keep Hans von Spakovsky off the Federal Election Commission, so here’s a heartfelt Bravo! going out to the Democrats for that achievement. Since I read this in an AP article, I dare not link to it, though it was on the New York Times website; but I’m sure you can google up someone else’s article on the same topic.
It’s a small enough victory in some ways — I mean, considering
But it’s real, and it’s likely to have some positive effects on the honesty of the election. One might even dare to hope that the backbone shown in standing up against the Spakovsky nomination is a harbinger of things to come. In any case, it’s certainly a win to remove this smiling dirtbag from any office, organization, or assembly he’s in, or indeed near.
The lesson appears to be that the Democrats can make a stand on principle, and succeed in forcing the White House to act (at a minimum) according to the law. In the end, the administration withdrew Spakovsky’s nomination as a means of returning the Commission to working order: there are normally six commissioners, there’ve only been two since the beginning of this year, and decisions require a minimum of four votes.
Now we might hope for the laws to be faithfully executed. McCain has been combining attacks on Obama for opting out of public election financing with open violations of the very same laws himself, and getting away with it because the FEC only has two members.
But is this really the lesson? McCain’s campaign is expecting a pile of public-financing bucks. Problem is, he can’t simply grab the money and run; there’s got to be a vote by the FEC. Which, you recall, requires four votes, which haven’t been available. So McCain may have to eliminate the campaign-finance law violations, but he’ll get $85 million to cover his transition costs.
Maybe I’m too cynical, but I see in this saga not a harbinger of hope, and certainly not one of audacity, but one of compromise extended to the horizon. The Democrats won the day not by standing up for what was right and organizing support and holding fast to their beliefs, but by in effect holding hostage the public campaign-finance funds the McCain camp anticipates.
Not that I complain about extortion as political method; it happens all the time. In fact some form of extortion is pretty much basic tender in politics. What I’m trying to do here is puzzle out the behavior patterns of the party and see if anything can be done to influence it in positive directions.
What seems to have happened in the Spakovsky case is that the Democrats used their control of the money to force compliance. I’m fine with that strategy. I just want them to use that strategy when it counts. Which they haven’t in the past, and didn’t in this case. Democrats won this battle because the other side decided they wanted $85 million in public funds more than they wanted Spakovsky on the FEC. They changed plans, and the Democrats claimed victory.
Here’s exactly what I’m afraid the Obama dream might become. The Democratic party has always fought internal battles with at least as much ferocity as it employed against the opposition. But since the Reagan administration brought what Obama has called new ideas into the White House, the Democratic party has synonomous with — well, I’ll spare you the invective and limit myself to “spinelessness”.
Which is bad enough when we’re talking about domestic issues like where the wealth goes and who gets education and health care and who goes to prison. California used to have an educational system that was the envy of most of the world, nearly free as far as your work and your smarts would take you. The point was clearly to educate as much of the population as possible.
Then came the Republican Revolution, much of it starting here, and our point is once again clear: we’re scared of everybody. We’re educating fewer and imprisoning more, and passing the savings on to the very rich. What savings, you say? There are no savings from educating fewer and imprisoning more? True. Thus we must create savings, which we do by changing the tax structure so that wealth flows up the ladder, increasing inequality and thus providing more work for the prisons. Synergy, I think they call it.
As Americans we have the God-given freedom to crucify ourselves on whatever cross of gold strikes our fancy. But when the Democrats’ spinelessness extends to complicity in criminal wars, that’s a different thing. Going by the peer-reviewed and apparently methodologically sound Lancet studies, about a million Iraqis have been killed one way or another by the American invasion, plus about five million “displaced”, driven from their homes, nearly half of whom have left the country.
If Mexico invaded the US, it would have to kill 11 million Americans and displace 55 million more to match these percentages. Such actions might be expected to leave a certain amount of disgruntlement behind. Thus blowback. Thus 9/11. Thus fewer civil liberties and greater concentration of wealth. Producing more disgruntlement, and so on. As I said a year ago, it’s a great business.
I suspect the best hope for maintaining the current structure of power and privilege (if that’s your goal) is to allow the insertion of a soul into the juggernaut of capitalism. Otherwise, our trajectory seems headed for something between another Depression and another Paris Commune.
My fear is that the Democrats are too heavily invested in the business of American Business to realize what’s going on: the business has morphed into a war machine, and is attempting to set itself up as a modern Colossus. This business model is bound to fail. The country must disinvest. The question that remains is whether the Democrats continue to resist the obvious necessity.
The New York Times reports that the White House and the Democrats have agreed on a rewrite of the wiretapping rules. It’s not entirely clear why anyone cares to take the trouble. Everyone knows the administration has been ignoring the existing rules; why would a rewrite make a difference?
Perhaps the most important concession that Democratic leaders claimed in the proposal was a reaffirmation that the intelligence protocols are the “exclusive” means for the executive branch to conduct wiretapping operations in terrorism and espionage cases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had insisted on that element, and Democratic staff members asserted that the language would prevent Mr. Bush, or any future president, from circumventing the law. The proposal asserts that “that the law is the exclusive authority and not the whim of the president of the United States,“ Ms. Pelosi said.
In general, rewriting the law to emphasize to those who knowingly violated it in the past that the law must be obeyed is an ineffective means of making the point.
The Democrats are letting the telecoms off the hook for activities the companies knew were illegal; the precedents were clear. In exchange for this immunity the Democratic, I hesitate to say leadership in this context, can depart grasping the idea that this reaffirmation will constrain a President when the first affirmation did not. It seems to be a textbook case of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Or alternatively, perhaps the Democrats have no problem with warrantless wiretapping and torture and illegal wars as long as it’s the Democrats in power at the time. All power corrupts, said John Emerich Edward Dahlberg, and he was right.
If you worked long hard hours and years to reach the upper atmosphere of Congressional leadership for your party, it’d be hard to think in terms of the American empire ending. It’d be hard to realize that there is an American empire to begin with; as Chomsky says, you can’t reach a position of power in the US government without believing that the country is unique in history in acting purely from altruistic motives.
That’s abroad, of course; domestically, it’s devil take the hindmost. In the current case, as so often in recent years, the hindmost is the American public. This is somehow more grating now that we have Democrats controlling Congress. In 2006 we took the reins from the Republicans, too corrupt, incompetent, and downright evil to live with any more, and handed them to the Democrats, who promised, as all parties do in such circumstances, to restore dignity and truth to the institution and to assert the rule of law.
Hah! In fact, they’ve repeatedly capitulated. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the only real accomplishment the Democrats had to show for taking control of Congress was refusing to cave on telecom immunity. Now they’re caving on that too.
I just bought a couple Cindy Sheehan for Congress buttons.
From an interesting post on Joe Bageant’s always interesting blog:
I talked to a guy the other day who has a job picking up dead deer and other animals along the roads. He used to be a mall store manager until he was let go. He says he loves his new job. Being outside of a vehicle amid the trees and fields, even alongside a road, has given him a whole new perspective about how people really live in America.
“I’d recommend a career in roadkill to anyone,” he laughs.
In my opinion the single greatest issue arising from the immoral and inept and illegal Bush/Cheney misadministration is the blowback likely to be generated by the disasters we’ve wreaked around the world. We’ve made enemies of literally millions of people in Iraq alone; five million refugees, internal and external, plus a million dead, and who knows how many lives and bodies left shattered, most of them not initially predisposed to despising us. An economy and social structure in ruins; existing political instabilities exaggerated throughout the region; American and Israeli strength increasingly intertwined, and thus suspicion and guilt increasingly collective in nature.
How will Americans process that knowledge?
My guess is they’ll start with denial, but that river ain’t flowin’. We try to follow our beloved President down the cherry-blossom path, but like him we keep finding ourselves bewildered and deserted. Dana Milbank lists the countries whose governments have changed hands in one sense or another as polities around the world reject the Cheney approach. Spain, Italy, Poland, Japan, Britain, and Australia have all substituted Bush doubters for the Bush promoters who helped, or at least didn’t complain about, the war.
Bush’s pariah status has turned his Coalition of the Willing into a retirement community and given the president an unusual role in the domestic affairs of other countries. In Australia, one of Rudd’s predecessors as Labor leader, Mark Latham, got the top job after describing Bush as “the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.” He further described members of Howard’s government as a “conga line of suckholes” to Bush.
Howard, in turn, expressed a view that al-Qaeda terrorists would be praying for a 2008 victory by Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular.
Bush enjoyed this mutual affection. “I can tell you, relations are great right now,” he said last year in Sydney, which was all but shut down by security measures needed to keep him safe.
Relations are perhaps not quite so great now, but Bush put on a brave face as he welcomed Rudd to the White House Friday. He called the 50-year-old premier a “fine lad” and even praised Rudd’s decision to pull out of Iraq. “I always like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he’s going to do,” Bush reasoned.
Rudd, touched by Bush’s manner, said he was designating the president as “an honorary Queenslander,” after the prime minister’s home state.
Will international hostility toward us decrease, as we flush the Bush presidency down the memory hole at top speed while people around the world continue to suffer from our latest war of aggression? Probably it will; there seem to be signs in international polls that the current political campaign has helped our image abroad, if only in showing a lot more engagement by Americans than the world has recently seen from us, and in reminding us all that the nightmare will soon end.
Now the question is, what do we do about it? By “it”, I mean the whole shebang. The Bush wars and the disasters they’ve created, not confined to Afghanistan and Iraq. The loss of honor involved in the revelations of systematic and institutionalized torture. The direct assaults on privacy and civil liberties. And perhaps most disgusting and frightening of all, the attempts to rob us of our most basic American right, to cast a vote that counts toward the decisions we as a nation must make.
If at this transitional moment we succumb to the ease of the remote and switch to another channel, we’ll miss a tremendous opportunity. We could recoup a large amount of the global goodwill that flooded our way after 9/11 if we were to repudiate the conduct and aims of the previous presidency. This to my knowledge the US has never done, but we need to make explicit public record that Bush, Cheney, et.al., violated both the letter and the spirit of our national institutions, and many cases our laws as well.
By default, those institutions will remain in their current configurations, ready for use by the next occupant of the Oval Office. Doubtless, the three most likely occupants will all employ the office with greater reverence for tradition and international coöperation than the current one. But will the next President agree to make warrantless wiretaps illegal? Or will we just agree to define “warrant” and “wiretap” so that whatever we’re currently doing is now okay?
The real question is whether the November election will bring the US to a realistic operating posture with respect to the rest of the world. We no longer dominate. We never should have tried. We can still lead by example, if we admit our mistakes and try to fix them. Or we can hunker down and wait for the incoming, hoping to be raptured.
We know where we’ve been. But who can tell us where we are going? Let us hope that an American spring will arrive soon. It’s hard to be hopeful after almost eight years of a long winter nightmare.
This evening, through another in a series of “no duh!” moments, I realized that the Democratic Presidential candidates are arguing over two separate types of discord.
The first began subtly but unmistakably creeping toward center stage after the Iowa caucuses, when Clinton supporters found themselves in a real race and began to say things to the press that caused them to be reassigned to duties out of the public eye. I do not imply that the Clinton machine is the only flinger of mud; but I do assert that, with regard to mud and the flinging of it, the Clintons’ assembly far outguns the combined strength of its Democratic opponents. They have the organization, the campaign experience, the government-related connections, and some knowledge of what it’s like to be in the public eye constantly. Plus memories of just how low politics can really go.
Many Americans find this disgusting. The Democrats haven’t yet begun accusing each other of experimenting on unborn kids. No sirree; Democratic barbs are less direct, more substantial, credible across a larger range of educational backgrounds. You know, things like aggravating racial divides with inept remarks about the sainted Dr. King. Or occasionally slipping in inadvertent drug references:
“To me, as an African American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues — when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book — when they have been involved,” he said.
Leaving aside the structural deficiencies of that sentence — what, in fact, is the Obama campaign supposed to have implied about the Clintons? — this seems to me a coach-class insult hurled by an operative of moderate skills and fiery temperament. The motivation such people bring to the table only partially compensates for the disarray their manic activity can generate.
In this case, the incident is unlikely to have lasting significance. Mr. BET, Bob Johnson — the only black American billionaire other than Oprah — has apologized for his remark, and the Obama campaign has accepted the apology. But there’ve been a number of these not-too-subtle low blows since Iowa; and my guess is that if Obama wins South Carolina, especially if he wins handily, he can expect a fuller taste of Rovian tactics from the crowd around his main competitor.
I further guess that absent something both real and serious — unlikely but not beyond imagining — throwing dirt at Obama will only make him stronger. This is precisely the kind of politics Obama is making his name in opposition to. Taking mudballs and holding his position, fuzzy though it be, he appears to stand tall, a man who can rise above the fray, climb the mountain, and bring back the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason.
Many Obama voters no doubt agree with his policies. Many more agree with what they believe his policies are, basing their beliefs on how they feel about him personally. And it’s undeniable that he’s a tremendously charismatic figure, the best set-piece speaker I’ve ever heard, and the sort of person we wish the American system tended to produce, though in fact he’s more of a fortunate anomaly.
Mike Huckabee benefits similarly by coming across as a likable person. Anyone who can hold his own with Colbert twice has proved himself quick-witted and comfortable in his own skin; he gives you the feeling that he’d be a good decision-maker in the sense that he’d make decisions based on what he really thought, felt, and believed was going on. Of course he’s totally bonkers in several areas with respect to what actually is going on, but that’s a separate issue.
But many Obamaniacs, it appears to me, support him because they think he’ll make politics friendlier, less critical and demanding and more harmonious. More like television and less like in-laws. It’s a beautiful dream and a worthwhile goal, though a reader of history might be forgiven for considering it something of a long-term prospect.
I’m all for aiming the society at the flag of coöperation. But at this point in the evolution and training of human consciousness; at this stage in the development of the nation-state; at this historical tipping point between a modern feudalism and a renewed commitment to the path of democracy, with all its surprises, Americans are neither psychologically prepared nor sufficiently informed to participate in creating global harmony. As Bertrand Russell put it, our ethic compels competition, but our situation requires coöperation. We’d better get our minds right or we’ll be spending more than one night in The Box.
To do that, we have to work on making society more just; and to do that we have to confront the powers in our own country. We cannot expect to achive measurable success toward our goals by compromising with those who are gorging themselves at the public trough. Unfortunately the very act of exploitation creates a zero-sum game, where Player One loses to the exact extent Player Two gains.
The corporations that are the current bane of democracy in America, particularly the weapons, insurance, and drug companies, can logically expect a reduction in profits as a result of increasing public control over public things. If the US stopped bombing other countries, spent half the money we send to Iraq on nationwide infrastructure and Japanese-level trains and the other half on developing new energy sources and saving the environment, and developed some sort of universal health-care plan like all the other so-called industrialized countries, we could free ourselves from the necessity to invade other countries for profit or resources. We could once again bid to lead the world in technologies of the future (and the future-tech niche tends to have unusually high profit margins). We could regain some of our international moral stature.
But this would damage the corporate profit sheets beyond the power of spin, reducing the value of stock options held by literally hundreds of board members across the country. They are likely to oppose any such plan, and to have significant resources available to invest in agreeable candidates and initiatives.
The battle to decide whether the early 21st-century United States will be a corporate or a popular state is underway. To the extent that popular sovereignty succeeds (or a populist monomaniac arises), powerful interests will suffer a decline in superlativeness. They will resist the individual depredations with every available tactic. It’s worth spending a hundred million in advertising and campaign contributions to preserve thirty billion a year in profits, eh what?
Like the vast majority of Americans, I would like to see the vicious, low-down, lying, dirty politics of the last few decades evolve into a mutual realization of mutual dependency. But that’s not on the horizon. Rove, and the Republican oppo research tanks now recycling classic baby-vivisection stories, will soon be aimed at the Democratic nominee, and no victory in November, no matter how convincing, will silence them. If the next President wants to return some control over the government to the people, that project will meet resistance, not only from the Republicans now hypocritically filibustering everything, but also from the Republican wing of the Democratic party, the DLC. Such a project is bound to fail without the exhibition of significant public interest. Therein, of course, lies the danger.
But I’m afraid there’s no escaping it: this is a fight we either take on or cower from. We cannot rise above it. We can succeed, but if we run, hide, or ignore it, we lose.
Zachary Coile has put together an excellent summary of Speaker Pelosi’s first year.
Since I often complain about the reporting we get these days, I make a special effort to applaud the reporting I appreciate. So I complimented him on an excellent article about the historic first year of the first woman to be Speaker of the House. But I had one issue (punctuation/links modified to fit the medium):
Though I live in her district, I didn’t vote for her because of disagreements with her stands and actions on the recent wars, and the Middle East in general. I was aware of most of the items you mentioned in your article when they happened, but putting them into a big picture is helpful (I used to be a tech writer). Your piece made clear that in the big picture Pelosi’s tenure has seen some encouraging signs of the return of the values of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. I hope the New Year brings more of them.
There’s one item I consider important that I think your list overlooked. In fact to me it’s of overriding importance. I applaud the successes of the first Pelosi year; I understand and commiserate with the defeats and frustrations; and I’ve seen the numbers on the filibusters by Senate Republicans, who were trying to abolish the filibuster only a couple of years back.
My single biggest issue is the preservation of the United States as a republic, more or less under public control, with sovereignty residing — actually, not merely theoretically — with the people. That concept has been under assault for several administrations.
The Constitution begins by describing Congress, the representatives of the people. Next comes the President, who is not supposed to be superior to Congress, or become an emperor. But this President, driven by his Vice President, has run roughshod over the Constitution and openly gotten away with power-grabs far more significant than any Richard Nixon dreamed of. If these actions are not investigated, fully, no matter what office they reach, the next power-tripping President will be the end of the Republic.
You’ve probably read the statement of the lawyers mentioned in The Nation. If we consider this subject too unpleasant to look at or do anything about, we’ve ceded full control to the Executive, and that means empire. The problem for us is that we’ll get all the worst of empire without the benefits. We’ve already had those, and we’re on the verge of giving them up to get security; then we won’t get security either.
Speaker Pelosi has opposed efforts, by Chairman Conyers in particular, to open investigations that might lead to impeachment proceedings. To me, this is the single biggest issue we face, of more importance for our lifetimes even than Iraq, the economy, and health care: do we maintain the rule of law? If the President can flaunt his disregard for it and pay no penalty, be subject to no sort of censure, not even lose a political battle, the Republic is over, and Congress serves the same purpose as the Roman Senate under Augustus.
Your article helped convince me that this is the major issue standing between me and voting for Pelosi. The thing is, it’s my number one issue. Regardless of actions intelligent or otherwise on the important issues of the day, if the United States follows the lead of Rome or Spain rather than that of Britain and France, the next half-century looks ugly.
Thanks again for helping me center my attention on the real issues. I’ve made some changes in my overall evaluations as a result.
Which, I maintain, is what you want reporting to do. Thanks, Zachary!
As postscript, here’s the preamble to the lawyers’ statement.
We, the undersigned lawyers in the United States, have been inspired by the many lawyers in Pakistan who have risked their own liberty and careers in an effort to preserve their nation’s freedoms.
Their courage has deepened our own resolve to defend the rule of law in our nation. As lawyers, we have both a moral and professional responsibility to preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States.
To that end, we are committed to creating a movement of lawyers in this nation dedicated to monitoring and, when appropriate, challenging the actions of our government when those actions threaten our nation’s freedoms.
As our initial act, we are issuing the following statement to the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees, urging hearings into the unconstitutional and possibly criminal actions of the Bush Administration.
Congressman Robert Wexler, D-FL, has started a drive to collect signatures of those who think the Vice President should be impeached. Among whom I count myself.
Of course it’s true that war crimes and crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations. But if they manage to leave the dirt and the office at the same time they will have gotten away with it. They won’t be able to travel openly outside the US, of course; but Bush had hardly traveled before he was President, and Cheney never does anything openly anyway. Rice will be feted by Stanford, like Rumsfeld, and no one will think of attaching any taint of blame to the man sent to the UN to do his masterly sales job on the world.
We gotta start somewhere. No one can fire the Vice President, so he can’t be let go late one Friday evening after a decision to cut losses. And no reasonable person wants to impeach Bush only to end up with Cheney. So OVP seems like a good place to start.
By the way, if you hear anyone argue that simply leaving office in disgrace is sufficient suffering, point out that, for example, convicted liar Elliot Abrams is still poisoning public policy. Five Presidential terms (that is, three Presidents) later, he’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy.
Unless we put a wooden stake through the area where the heart would be, they’ll be back. Cheney’s an excellent place to start.